Gandhi's highly favorable views of the historic Jesus Christ
The Man in White

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"In my humble opinion, what passes as Christianity is a negation of the Sermon on the Mount ...
I am speaking of the Christian belief, of Christianity as it is understood in the west."

the man in white
The Man in White

Gandhi 's view of Jesus Christ

by Fr. Benny Aguiar

What did Jesus mean to Gandhi? Did he have any influence on Gandhi's life and teaching? What according to Gandhi was the essence of Christ's message? Was Gandhi a secret Christian? What is the challenge that Gandhi presents to Christians and Christianity today?

Answers to these questions may be found in a recent book, 'Gandhi and Christianity' edited by Robert Ellsberg and published by Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 10545. This book is an anthology of the speeches and writings of Gandhi on the subject as well as responses to Gandhi's challenge by various Christian scholars. It should be a valuable reference book on the ongoing dialogue between Christians and representatives of other religions.

Early in his life, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had been reading the Bible to keep a promise he had made to a friend. He found the Old Testament extremely difficult going. He disliked the Book of Numbers. But the New Testament produced a different impression, especially the Sermon on the Mount which went straight to his heart. The verses about not resisting evil but offering the other cheek and giving the cloak to one who asked for one's coat delighted him beyond measure. They reminded him about something he had learned in his childhood about returning with gladness good for evil done.

"I did once seriously think of embracing the Christian faith," Gandhi told Millie Polak, the wife of one of his earliest disciples. "The gentle figure of Christ, so patient, so kind, so loving, so full of forgiveness that he taught his followers not to retailate when abused or struck, but to turn the other cheek, I thought it was a beautiful example of the perfect man..."

However, on another occasion, he said he could accept Jesus "as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born. His death on the Cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it, my heart could not accept."

"The message of Jesus as I understand it," said Gandhi, "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 negatively I can tell you that in my humble opinion, what passes as Christianity is a negation of the Sermon on the Mount... I am speaking of the Christian belief, of Christianity as it is understood in the west."

Gandhi could speak beautifully about the message and personality of Jesus. Talking about the Gospel passage of the rich young man, he said, "St. Mark has vividly described the scene. Jesus is in his solemn mood. He is earnest. He talks about eternity. He knows the world about him. He is himself the greatest economist of his time. He succeeded in sermonising time and space - He transcends them. It is to him at the best that one comes running, kneels down and asks, "Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said unto him, "One thing thou lackest. Go thy way, sell what thou hast and give it to the poor, and thou shall have treasure in heaven - come, take up the cross and follow me." Here you have an eternal rule of life stated in the noblest words the English language is capable of producing." Gandhi went on to say that he could quote even stronger passages from the Hindu scriptures and the lesson he wanted to draw was that if we could clean our houses, palaces and temples of the attributes of wealth and show in them the attributes of morality we could fight all hostile forces without military strength. Let us seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, he said, and the irrevocable promise is that everything will be added upon us. "These are real economics. May you and I treasure them and enforce them in our daily life."

Poverty, suffering, the Crosss, non-violence, morality - all these were part of the Kingdom of God. But for Gandhi what struck him most in the Sermon on the Mount was Christ's teaching on non-retaliation, or non-resistance to evil. "Of all the things I have read what remained with me forever was that Jesus came almost to give a new law - not an eye for an eye but to receive two blows when only one was given, and to go two miles when they were asked to go one. I came to see that the Sermon on the Mount was the whole of Christianity for him who wanted to live a Christian life. It is that sermon that has endeared Jesus to me."

"Jesus occupies in my heart," said Gandhi, "the place of one of the greatest teachers who have had a considerable influence on my life. I shall say to the Hindus that your life will be incomplete unless you reverentially study the teachings of Jesus... Make this world the kingdom of God and his righteousness and everything will be added unto you. I tell you that if you will understand, appreciate, and act up to the spirit of this passage, you won't need to know what place Jesus or any other teacher occupies in your heart."

For Gandhi, Jesus was the prince of Satyagrahists. "The example of Jesus suffering is a factor in the composition of my un-dying faith in non-violence. What then does Jesus mean to me? To me, He was one of the greatest teachers humanity has ever had." For Gandhi, to say that Jesus was the only begotten son of God was to say that "in Jesus' own life was the key of his nearness to God, that he expressed as no other could, the spirit and will of God... I do believe that something of the spirit that Jesus exemplified in the highest measure, in its most profound human sense exist... If I did not believe it, I should be a sceptic, and to be a sceptic is to live a life that is empty and lacking moral content. Or, what is the same thing, to condemn the human race to a negative end."

Gandhi believed that in every man there was an impulse for good and a compassion that is the spark of divinity that will one day burst into the full flower that is the hope of all mankind. An example of this flowering, he said, may be found in the figure and in the life of Jesus. "I refuse to believe that there not exists or has ever existed a person that has not made use of his example to lessen his sins, even though he may have done so without realising it. The lives of all have, in some greater or lesser degree, been changed by His presence, His actions and the words spoken by His divine voice... I believe that he belongs not solely to Christianity, but to the entire world; to all races and people, it matters litle under what flag, name or doctrine they may work, profess a faith or worship a God inherited from their ancestors."

For Gandhi Jesus was the true satyagrahist who passed the test of non-violence even if he seemed to be otherwise a failure. "The virtues of mercy, non-violence, love and truth in any man can be truly tested when they are pitted against ruthlessness, violence, hate and untruth... This is the true test of Ahimsa ... He who when being killed bears no anger against his murderer and even asks God ot forgive him is truly non-violent. History relates this of Jesus Christ. With his dying breath on the Cross, he is reported to have said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what to do."

According to the theory of Satyagraha, said Gandhi, an adequate appeal to the heart never fails. "Seeming failure is not of the law of Satyagraha but of incompetence of the Satyagrahist by whatever cause induced. The name of Jesus at once comes to the lips. It is an instance of brillant failure. And he has been acclaimed in the west as the prince of passive resisters. I showed years ago in South Africa that the adjective 'passive' was a misnomer, at least as applied to Jesus. He was the most active resister known perhaps to history. His was non-violence par excellence."
Editorial by Fr. Benny Aguiar, in the Examiner, the official organ of the Bombay (Mumbai) diocese of the New Church, 26th September 1992


[Gandhi] "is the greatest Indian since Gautama Buddha and the greatest man since Jesus Christ." -- J. H. Holmes

the Man in White

Jesus is a liberal

candida pax

Mahatma Gandhi An Interpretation (1948) - While in India, an American theologian named E. Stanley Jones became a close friend of Mahatma Gandhi and spent much time with Gandhi and the Nehru family. After Gandhi's murder Jones wrote a biography of Gandhi, a book which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told Jones' daughter, Eunice Jones Mathews, that it was this biography that inspired him to "non-violence" in the Civil Rights Movement. It is said that Jones had a strong influence in preventing the spread of communism in India. Jones was not actually Quaker at all, but was a Methodist of a strong pietist inclination.
See E. Stanley Jones - a bridge between India and the West

"It is ironic, yet inescapably true that the greatest Christian of
the modern world was a man who never embraced Christianity."
[Martin Luther King, Jr.]

candida pax

The Man in White

Two Vagabonds, travelling barefoot, preaching ahimsa

Gandhi is probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale. The intellectual and moral satisfaction that I failed to gain from the utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill, the revolutionary methods of Marx and Lenin, the social contract theory of Hobbes, the 'back to nature' optimism of Rousseau, and the superman philosophy of Nietzsche, I found in the non-violent resistance philosophy of Gandhi.

It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking.... I came to feel that this was the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.

(Martin Luther King, Jr.)
(Stride Toward Freedom)

Papa Francisco: "¡No más guerras!"

Persona más popular en el mundo

Sitikarna's Placard of
Gandhi, Buddha, Christ

See David Morgan's Sacred-Gaze

Where Love Is, God is Also

Here is a quote from E. Stanley Jones' reflections on a conversation he had with Gandhi (as recorded in The Christ of the Indian Road). Jones says of his life-long friendship with Gandhiji, "Mahatma Gandhi was a Hindu - a deeply Christianized Hindu, more Christianized than most Christians, and I was a Christian, at least a Christian in the making." Of his first encounter with the great soul, Jones, who befriended Gandhi as a missionary in India, asked the great leader what would be required for Christianity to be "naturalized" in India. Gandhi had a four part response, which I'll directly relay as Jones did. His words are timeless, and as true for Christianity in America today as they were for India then:
1. I would suggest, first, that all of you Christians, missionaries, and all, must begin to live more like Jesus Christ.
2. Second, I would suggest that you must practice your religion without adulterating or toning it down.
3. Third, I would suggest that you must put your emphasis upon love, for love is the center and soul of Christianity.
4. Fourth, I would suggest that you study the non-Christian religions and culture more sympathetically in order to find the good that is in them, so that you might have a more sympathetic approach to the people.
Gandhi constantly said to the Indian Christians and missionaries: "Don't talk about it. The rose doesn't have to propagate its perfume. It just gives it forth and people are drawn to it. Don't talk about it. Live it. And people will come to see the source of your power."

Jones reflecting on interpreting christ in india:
Jesus is the gospel. We therefore bring him to the East and West and say: Take him direct. You don't have to take our interpretation of Christ, except as you find it helpful in forming your own. Go straight to the gospels to discover Jesus anew, and if you show us a better interpretation we shall sit at your feet. The system which we have built up around Christ in the West may be useful and helpful as embodying a collective experience, but it is no integral part of the gospel. Create out of your own experience the corporate expression of that experience. Christ is universal but he uses local forms to express that universality. We expect you in India out of your rich cultural and religious past to bring to the interpretation of the universal Christ something which will greatly enrich the total expression. Especially now that Gandhi has lived and died we think you can interpret Christ in terms that are lacking in the West.

A movement that was fighting the West was showing to the West its own Saviour in a new way. A Hindu summed it up for me in these words. " We Hindus and you Christians should change [exchange] sacred books. The Bhagavad Gita gives philosophic reasons for war while the New Testament teaches peace, and yet we are more peace minded and you are more war minded. If we change [exchange] sacred books it would suit us both better." []

Gandhi's 7 Dangers To Human Virtue
  1. Wealth without work
  2. Pleasure without conscience
  3. Knowledge without character
  4. Business without ethics
  5. Science without humanity
  6. Religion without sacrifice
  7. Politics without principle
thanks to Edward Agyeman

Comment re. # 6 above
I think sacrifice can be a very positive thing. We see all too much in our own history a religion of cheap grace, Jesus did everything, I am therefore home free, without a care,
without duties and challenges. I don't like that kind of cheap religion, on a feather bed. But what about sacrifice? Let's make sure we define it as humility (and openness)
or at least the "lived religion" of striving to be a better person, and creating a better world. Tikkun olam. Healing the world starts with a new me, a true me.

Robert Shepherd
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