It is a privilege for me to enjoy the friendship of so many unknown American and
European friends. It pleases me to note that the circle is ever widening,
perhaps more especially in America. I had the pleasure of receiving a warm
invitation about a year ago to visit that continent. The same invitation has now
been repeated with redoubled strength and with the offer to pay all expenses. I
was unable then, as I am now, to respond to the kind invitation. To accept it is
an easy enough task, but I must resist the temptation, for I feel that I can
make no effective appeal to the people of that great continent unless I make my
position good with the intellectuals of India.
I have not a shadow of doubt about the truth of my fundamental position. But I know that I am unable to carry with me the bulk of educated India. I can, therefore, gain no effective help for my country from the Americans and Europeans so long as I remain isolated from educated India. I do want to think in terms of the whole world. My patriotism includes the good of mankind in general. Therefore my service of India includes the service of humanity. But I feel that I should be going out of my orbit, if I left it for help from the West. I must be satisfied for the time being with such help as I can get from the West, speaking to it from my smaller Indian platform. If I go to America or to Europe, I must go in my strength, not in my weakness, which I feel today — the weakness, I mean, of my country. For, the whole scheme for the liberation of India is based upon the development of internal strength. It is a plan of self-purification. The peoples of the West, therefore, can best help the Indian movement by setting apart specialists to study the inwardness of it. Let the specialists come to India with an open mind and in a spirit of humility as befits a searcher after Truth. Then perhaps they will see the reality instead of a glorified edition that, in spite of all my desire to be absolutely truthful, I am likely to present if I go to America. I believe in thought-power more than in the power of the word, whether written or spoken. And if the movement that I seek to represent has vitality in it and has divine blessing upon it, it will permeate the whole world without my physical presence in its different parts. Anyway at the present moment I see no light before me. I must patiently plod in India until I see my way clear for going outside the Indian border.
After pressing the invitation, the American friend puts a number of questions for my consideration:
"Are not the present-day interests of all mankind, everywhere, so inextricably interwoven that no single country like India can be moved far oat of its present relationships to the others"?
I do believe with, the writer that no single country can remain in isolation for any length of time. The present plan for securing Swaraj is to attain not a position of isolation but one of full self-realization and self-expression for the benefit of all. The present position of bondage and helplessness hurts not only India, not only England, but the whole world.
"Is not your message and method essentially a world gospel — which will find its power in responsive souls, here and there, in many countries, who will thereby, gradually, remake the world?" If I can say so without arrogance and with due humility, my message and methods are indeed, in their essentials, for the whole world, and it gives me keen satisfaction to know that it has already received a wonderful response in the hearts of a large and daily growing number of men and women of the West.
"If you demonstrate your message in the language only of the East and in terms only of Indian emergencies, is there not grave danger that inessentials will be confused with fundamentals, that some features which correspond only to extreme situations in India will be wrongly understood to be vital in the universal sense?" I am alive to the danger pointed out by the - writer, but it seems to be inevitable. I am in the position of a scientist who is in the midst of a very incomplete experiment and who, therefore, is unable to forecast large results and larger corollaries in a language capable of being understood. In the experimental stage, therefore, I must run the risk of the experiment being misunderstood, as it has been and probably still is in many places.
"Ought you not to come to America (which, in spite of all her faults, is perhaps, potentially, the most spiritual of all living peoples) and tell the world what your message means in terms of Western, as well as Eastern, civilization?"
People in general will understand my message through its results. The shortest way, therefore, perhaps, of making it effectively heard is to let it speak for itself, at any rate for the time being.
"For example, should the Western followers of your inspiration preach and practise the spinning wheel?"
It is certainly not necessary for the Western people to preach and practise the spinning wheel unless they will do so out of sympathy, or for discipline, or with a view to applying their matchless inventive faculty to making the spinning wheel a better instrument, while retaining its essential characteristic as a cottage industry. But the message of the spinning wheel is much wider than its circumference. Its message is one of simplicity, service of mankind, living so as not to hurt others, creating an indissoluble bond between the rich and the poor, capital and labour, the prince and the peasant. That larger message is naturally for all.
"Is your condemnation of railroads, doctors, hospitals, and other features of modern civilization essential and unalterable? Should we not, first, try to develop a spirit great enough to spiritualize the machinery and the organized, scientific and productive powers of modern life?"
My condemnation of railroads etc. whilst true where it stands, has little or no bearing on the present movement which disregards none of the institutions mentioned by the writer. In the present movement I am attacking neither railroads nor hospitals; but in an ideal State they seem to me to have little or no place. The present movement is just the attempt the writer desires. Yet it is not an attempt to spiritualize the machinery — because that seems to me an impossible task — but to introduce, if it is at all possible, a human or the human spirit among the men behind the machinery. Organization of machinery for the purpose of concentrating wealth and power in the hands of a few and for the exploitation of many, I hold to be altogether wrong. Much of the organization of machinery of the present age is of that type. The movement of the spinning wheel is an organized attempt to displace machinery from that state of exclusiveness and exploitation and to place it in its proper state. Under my scheme, therefore, men in charge of machinery will think not of themselves or even of the nation to which they belong but of the whole human race. Thus Lancashire men will cease to use their machinery for exploiting India and other countries, but on the contrary, they will devise means of enabling India to convert in her own villages her cotton into cloth. Nor will Americans, under my scheme, seek to enrich themselves by exploiting the other races of the earth through their inventive skill.
'*Is it not possible, in conditions so favourable as America's, to clarify and advance the evolution of the best human consciousness into such purpose and power, courage and beneficence, as shall liberate the souls of India's millions, and of all men everywhere?"
It is undoubtedly possible. Indeed it is my hope that America will seek the evolution of the best human consciousness; but that time is perhaps not yet. Probably it will not be before India has found her own soul. Nothing will please me more than to find America and Europe making the difficult path of India as easy as it is possible for them to do. They can do so by withdrawing the temptations in India's way and by encouraging her in her attempt to revive her ancient industries in her own villages.
"Why is it that people like myself, in every country, are grateful to you and eager to follow you? Is it not for two reasons, chiefly:
First: Because the next and basic need throughout the world is for a new spiritual consciousness — a realization, in the thought and feeling of average people, of the equal divinity of all human beings, and the unity, brotherhood, of all?
Second: Because you, more than any other widely known roan, have this consciousness, together with the power to arouse it in others?"
I can only hope that the writer's estimate is true.
"It is a world need — is it not ? — to which you have the best answer that God has vouchsafed to man. How can your mission be fulfilled in India alone? If my arm or leg could be vitalized to an extent far beyond the balance of my body, would that make for my general health, or even for the permanent best good of the one favoured member?"
I am fully aware that my mission cannot be fulfilled in India alone, but I hope I am humble enough to recognize my limitations and to see that I must keep for the time being to my restricted Indian platform till I know the result of the experiment in India itself. As I have already replied, I should like to see India free and strong so that she may offer herself as a willing and pure sacrifice for the betterment of the world. The individual, being pure, sacrifices himself for the family the latter for the village, the village for the district, the district for the province, the province for the nation, the nation for all.
"May I even submit — with deep reverence for your message — that possibly your own vision and inspiration would benefit by adjustment to the world instead of only, or chiefly, to India?" I recognize the considerable force of the foregoing statement. It is not at all impossible that a visit to the West may give me not a wider outlook — for I have endeavoured to show that it is the widest possible — but it may enable me to discover new methods of realizing the outlook. If such is my need, God will open the way for me.
"Is the political form of government, in India or anywhere, so important as the average individual's soul force — his courageous expression of the best inspiration he can derive from the divine spirit within and all about him?" The average individual's soul force is any day the most important thing. The political form is but a concrete expression of that soul force. I do not conceive the average individual's soul force as distinguished and existing apart from the political form of government. Hence I believe that after all a people has the government which it deserves. In other words, self-government can only come through self-effort.
"Is not the basic need, everywhere, for the clarification and development of this soul force in individuals — beginning, -possibly, with a few people and spreading like a divine contagion to the many?" It is indeed.
"You teach, rightly, that the faithful development of such soul force in India will assure India's freedom. Will it not everywhere shape all political, economic and international institutions including the issues of peace or war? Can those forms of human civilization be made radically superior in India to the rest of the world — now, when all mankind are neighbours ? "I have already answered this question in the preceding paragraphs. I have claimed in these pages before now that India's freedom must revolutionize the world's outlook upon peace and war. Her impotence affects the whole of mankind.
“You know, better than I or anyone, how all these questions should be answered. I chiefly seek to express my eager faith in your gospel, my hungry desire for your leadership in solving the urgent problems of America and of all mankind. Therefore, will you graciously remember that, if (or when) the time may come that India's progress in the directions you have so inspiringly outlined appears to pause — waiting for the Western world to come up along-side — then we of the West stand urging you to give us a few months of your time and your personal presence. My own feeling is that, if you will call us and instruct us, we (your uncounted followers scattered obscurely over the wide earth) will join our lives to yours in the discovery and realization of a new and noble, world-wide Commonwealth of the Spirit, in which man's age-old dreams of Brotherhood. Democracy, Peace, and Soul Progress shall characterize the daily life of average people — In India, England, America, and everywhere."
I wish I had confidence in my leadership on the world platform. I have no false modesty about me. If I felt the call within, I would not wait a single second but straightway respond to an invitation so cordial as this. But with my limitations of which I am painfully conscious, I feel somehow that my experiment must be restricted to a fragment. What may be true of the fragment is likely to be true of the whole. It is true indeed that India's progress in the direction I desire seems to have come to a pause; but I think that it only seems so. The little seed that was sown in 1920 has not perished. It is, I think, taking deep root. Presently it will come out as a stately tree. But if I am labouring under a delusion, I fear that no artificial stimulus that my visit to America may temporarily bring, can revive it. I am pining for the assistance of the whole world. I see it coming. The urgent invitation is one of the many signs. But I know that we shall have to deserve it before it comes upon us like a mighty flood, a flood that cleanses and invigorates.
Young India, 17-9-1925