A Few Theosophical Teachings
As Expressed by Mohandas Gandhi
Carlos Cardoso Aveline
Gandhi (1869-1948)
1. Religion Must Not Separate People
According to Theosophy, the same universal truth permeates all legitimate religions, philosophies and sciences.
And Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi wrote:
“Religions are not for separating men from one another, they are meant to bind them. I should love all the men – not only in India but in the world – belonging to different faiths, to become better people by contact with one another, and if that happens the world will be a much better place to live in than it is today. I plead for the broadest toleration and I am working to that end. I ask people to examine every religion from the point of view of the religionists themselves. I do not expect India of my dream to develop one religion, that is, to be wholly Hindu or wholly Christian or wholly Mussalman, but I want it to be wholly tolerant, with its religions working side by side with one another.”
He added:
“The need for the moment is not one religion, but mutual respect and tolerance of the devotees of the different religions. We want to reach not the dead level, but unity in diversity. Any attempt to root out traditions, effects of heredity, climate and other surroundings is not only bound to fail, but it is a sacrilege. The soul of religions is one, but it is encased in a multitude of forms. The latter will persist to the end of time. Wise men will ignore the outward crust and see the same soul living under a variety of crusts. (…)  Truth is the exclusive property of no single scripture.”
“Every religion is as precious to me as my own Hinduism (…..)  No thought of conversion is permissible to me at all. We must help a Hindu to become a better Hindu, a Mussalman to become a better Mussalman and a Christian to become a better Christian (…..) We must eradicate from our midst the secret pride that our religion is more true and that another’s is less so. Our attitude towards all religions must be absolutely clear and sincere.” [1]
2. The Problem With Christianity
Gandhi knew how to face error and hypocrisy, and he told his readers:
“An English friend has been at me for the past thirty years trying to persuade me that there is nothing but damnation in Hinduism and I must accept Christianity. When I was in jail I got from separate sources no less than three copies of Life of Sister Therese, in the hope that I should follow her example and accept Jesus as the only begotten son of God and my Saviour. I read the book prayerfully but I could not accept even St. Therese’s testimony. I must say I have an open mind, if  indeed at this stage and age of my life I can be said to have an open mind on this question. Anyway, I claim to have an open mind in this sense that if things were to happen to me as they did to Saul before he became Paul, I should not hesitate to be converted. But today I rebel against orthodox Christianity, as I am convinced that it has distorted the message of Jesus. He was an Asiatic whose message was delivered through many media and when it had the backing of a Roman emperor, it became an imperialist faith as it remains to this day.  Of course, there are noble but rare exceptions, but the general trend is as I have indicated.” [2]
3. Truth is Better Than God
Theosophy dismantles the sectarian idea of monotheistic gods. Although Mohandas Gandhi frequently refers to “God” in his writings, this does not constitute a problem from the point of view of theosophy, for he often clarifies:
“My uniform experience is that there is no other God than Truth.” [3]
This statement is correct in esoteric philosophy, and it essentially coincides with the motto of the theosophical movement: “There is no religion higher than truth”. 
The definition of God as Nothing but Truth also means that there is no monotheistic god and therefore churches are both godless and truthless.
Gandhi’s definition of God is basically consistent with the teachings of the famous Letter 10  in the Mahatma Letters (or letter 88 in the Chronological edition):
“We deny God both as philosophers and as Buddhists. We know there are planetary and other spiritual lives, and we know there is in our system no such thing as God, either personal or impersonal. Parabrahm is not a God, but absolute immutable law, and Ishwar is the effect of Avidya and Maya, ignorance based on the great delusion. The word ‘God’ has been invented to designate the unknown cause of those effects which man has either admired or dreaded without understanding them…” [4]
Though technically not a “Mahatma” – a title which he honestly refused to accept – many of Mohandas Gandhi’s ideas were in tune with the teachings of the true Mahatmas.
4. Nothing New Under the Sun
Gandhi did not want to create a sect around himself.  He wrote:
“There is no such thing as ‘Gandhism’ and I do not want to leave any sect after me. I do not claim to have originated any new principle or doctrine. I have simply tried in my own way to apply the eternal truths to our daily life and problems. (…)  I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence areas old as the hills. (…) Our  scriptures have declared that there is no dharma higher than truth. But non-violence, they say, is the highest duty.” [5]
That there is no dharma (or religion) higher than truth was an important idea for Gandhi. He stated this motto of the theosophical movement elsewhere with almost the same words:
“There is no religion higher than Truth and Righteousness.”[6] 
5. The Transcendent Beauty of Truth
According to a popular axiom, the worst sort of blind man is he who refuses to see. Such an individual is naïve enough to get afraid of truth, or to believe it is something ugly and destructive. 
In fact, Truth can only be ugly in the eyes of those who prefer to be blind, and Mohandas Gandhi wrote about the deep and transcendent beauty of truth:
“I see and find beauty in Truth or through Truth. All truth, not merely true ideas, but truthful faces, truthful pictures and songs are highly beautiful. People generally fail to see beauty in Truth, the ordinary man runs away from and becomes blind to the beauty in it. Whenever men begin to see beauty in Truth, then true art will arise.” [7] 
Moral beauty predominates even when stern truthfulness reveals the ugliness of some situations. Any true vision of human failures includes the perception of their potential correction. Thus it brings with it the seeds of the healing process.
6. One Energy Permeates All
In the Declaration of the United Lodge of Theosophists (ULT), which was founded in 1909, one can read: “The true Theosophist belongs to no cult or sect, yet belongs to each and all.”[8]
This is a universal truth; and many years after 1909 Mohandas Gandhi wrote: “If a man reaches the heart of his own religion, he has reached the heart of the others too.” [9]
The idea applies to every aspect of life. If one knows himself he will more easily know others.  If one is his own friend he will be friendly to others.  If one struggles against mistakes in himself, he will struggle against mistakes in the outer world, for one’s basic energy inevitably goes into everything one does.
7. Finding Deep Joy
What is the best way to happiness?
Mohandas Gandhi wrote a few insightful paragraphs on the art of finding joy by not caring to possess, or control, things.  He said:
“I’m a poor mendicant. My earthly possessions consist of six spinning wheels, prison dishes, a can of goat’s milk, six homespun loin-cloths and towels, and my reputation which cannot be worth much.”
And he added:
“When I found myself drawn into the political coil, I asked myself what was necessary for me, in order to remain untouched by immorality, by untruth, by what is known as political gain. I came definitely to the conclusion that, if I had to serve the people in whose midst my life was cast and of whose difficulties I was a witness from day to day, I must discard all wealth, all possession.”
“I cannot tell you with truth that, when this belief came to me, I discarded everything immediately. I must confess to you that progress at first was slow. And now, as I recall those days of struggle, I remember that it was also painful in the beginning. But, as days went by, I  saw that I had to throw overboard  many other  things which I used to  consider as mine, and a time came when it became a matter of positive joy to give up those things. One after another then, by almost geometric possession, things slipped away from me. And, as I am describing my experiences, I can say a great  burden fell off my shoulders, and I felt  that I could now walk with ease  and do my work also in the service of my fellow men with great comfort and still greater joy. The possession of anything then became a troublesome thing and a burden.”
“Exploring the cause of that joy, I found that if I kept anything as my own, I had to defend it against the whole world. I found that there were many people who did not have the thing, although they wanted it; and I would have to seek political assistance also if some hungry famine-stricken people, finding me in a lonely place, wanted not only to divide the thing with me, but to dispossess me.  And I said to myself: if they want it and would take it, they do not do so from any malicious motive, but they would do it because theirs was a greater need than mine.”
“And I said to myself: possession seems to me to be a crime; I can only possess certain things when I know that others, who also want to possess similar things, are able to do so. But we know  –  everyone of us can speak from experience  –  that such a thing is an impossibility. Therefore, the only thing that can be possessed by all is non-possession, not to have anything whatsoever.  Or, in other words, a willing surrender ….. Therefore, having that absolute conviction in me, such must be my constant desire that this body also may be surrendered at the Will of God [10], and while it is at my disposal, must be used not for dissipation, not for self-indulgence, not for pleasure, but merely for service and service the whole of your waking hours. And if this is true with reference to the body, how much more with reference to clothing and other things that we use?”
Gandhi concluded:
“And those who have followed out this vow of voluntary poverty to the fullest extent possible – to reach absolute perfection is an impossibility, but the fullest possible for a human being – those who have reached the ideal of that state, testify that when you dispossess yourself of everything you have, you really possess all the treasures of the world”.[11]
Writing in the 19th century, Ernest Renan suggested that the doctrine of voluntary poverty, as lived and taught by Francis of Assisi, consists of enjoying a usufruct of the whole universe. For such a joy to occur, it is important not to search for possession of material things. [12]
This general model of relationship to the material world has been adopted by many individuals along the history of the modern theosophical movement.  Among notable examples are Helena Blavatsky, Damodar Mavalankar, William Judge and Boris de Zirkoff.
Renunciation is related to Ethics, and Mohandas Gandhi wrote:
“From my youth upward I learnt the art of estimating the value of scriptures on the basis of their ethical teaching.”  [13]
Decades before him, H. P.  Blavatsky had stated this same ancient principle of renunciation to selfishness:
“… The life of altruism is not so much a high ideal as a matter of practice. (….)  The Ethics of Theosophy are even more necessary to mankind than the scientific aspects of the psychic facts of nature and man.” [14]
8. On Being Called a Mahatma
Gandhi rejected titles and homage. Although the word Mahatma has now become universally attached to his name, he was not happy to be called that way. He said:
“I am conscious of my own limitations.  That consciousness is my only strength. Whatever I might have been able to do in my life has proceeded more than anything else out of the realization of my own limitations.”
“The only virtue I want to claim is truth and non-violence. I lay no claim to superhuman powers. I want none. I wear the same corruptible flesh that the weakest of my fellow being wears and am liable to err as any. (…)  For, confession of error is like a broom that sweeps away dirt and leaves the surface cleaner than before.  I feel stronger for my confession.”
“The mahatma I leave to his fate. Though a non-cooperator [15] I shall gladly subscribe to a Bill to make it criminal for anybody to call me mahatma and to touch my feet. Where I impose the law myself, at the ashram, the practice is criminal.” [16]
In another occasion, Gandhi wrote:
“Truth to me is infinitely dearer then ‘mahatmaship’, which is purely a burden. It is my knowledge of my limitations and my nothingness which has so far saved me from the oppressiveness of ‘mahatmaship’.” [17]
He also confessed:
“I have become literally sick of the adoration of the unthinking multitude. I would feel certain of my ground if I was spat upon by them.” [18]
[1] “The Message of Mahatma Gandhi”, Compiled and Edited by U.S. Mohan Rao, Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, New Delhi, 1968, 136 pp., see pp. 37-38.
[2] “All Men Are Brothers”, Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, UNESCO, p. 46.
[3] “All Men Are Brothers”, Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, UNESCO, p. 39.
[4] “The Mahatma Letters”, T.U.P., Pasadena, California, USA, 494 pp., Letter X, p. 52. In the Chronological edition (Philippines), see Letter 88. The quotation is in the first paragraph. 
[5] “All Men Are Brothers”, UNESCO, 1958, p. 47.
[6] “All Men Are Brothers”, p. 75.
[7] “All Men Are Brothers”, UNESCO, p. 74.
[8] “The ULT Declaration” is easy to find in our associated websites.
[9] “All Men Are Brothers”, UNESCO, p. 59.
[10] As we have seen, the word “God”, for Gandhi, means but Truth and Altruistic Love.  For further examination of the issue, see “All Men Are Brothers”, UNESCO, pp. 39, 58, 61, 65. The difference between Gandhi’s and Theosophy’s viewpoint regarding this topic is only nominal and has no real substance.
[11] “All Men Are Brothers”, UNESCO, pp. 44-45.
[12] “Nouvelles Études D’Histoire Religieuse”, Ernest Renan, Calmann-Lévy, Éditeurs, Paris, 1884, 533 pp., see Preface, pp. III-IV.
[13] “All Men Are Brothers”, p. 45.
[14] “Five Messages”, H.P. Blavatsky, The Theosophy Company, Los Angeles, 1922, 32 pp., see p. 12. The pamphlet is available at our associated websites.
[15] Non-cooperation – M. K.  Gandhi did not recognize the legitimacy of colonial State in India.
[16] “All Men Are Brothers”, Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, UNESCO, 1958, Paris, 196 pp., see pp. 38-39.
[17] “All Men Are Brothers”, Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, UNESCO, 1958, Paris, 196 pp., p. 43.
[18] “All Men Are Brothers”, Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, UNESCO, 1958, Paris, 196 pp., p. 39.
See also the text “Mahatma Gandhi and Theosophy”, which is easy to find in our associated websites.
On the role of the esoteric movement in the ethical awakening of mankind during the 21st century, see the book “The Fire and Light of Theosophical Literature”, by Carlos Cardoso Aveline.  
Published in 2013 by The Aquarian Theosophist, the volume has 255 pages and can be obtained through Amazon Books.