20. ACQUAINTANCE WITH RELIGIONS
Towards the end of my
second year in England I came across two Theosophists, brothers, and both
unmarried. They talked to me about the Gita. They were reading Sir
Edwin Arnold's translatio--The Song Celestial--and they invited
me to read the original with them. I felt ashamed, as I had read the divine
poem neither in Sanskrit nor in Gujarati. I was constrained to tell them
that I had not read the Gita, but that I would gladly read it with
them, and that though my knowledge of Sanskrit was meagre, still I hoped
to be able to understand the original to the extent of telling where the
translation failed to bring out the meaning. I began reading the Gita
with them. The verses in the second chapter
made a deep impression on my mind, and they still
ring in my ears. The book struck me as one of priceless worth. The impression
has ever since been growing on me, with the result that I regard it today
as the book par excellence for the knowledge of Truth. It has afforded
me invaluable help in my moments of gloom. I have read almost all the English
translations of it, and I regard Sir Edwin Arnold's as the best. He has
been faithful to the text, and yet it does not read like a translation.
Though I read the Gita with these friends, I cannot pretend to have
studied it then. It was only after some years that it became a book of
Ponders on objects of the sense, there springs
Attraction; from attraction grows desire,
Desire flames to fierce passion, passion breeds
Recklessness; then the memory--all betrayed--
Lets noble purpose go, and saps the mind,
Till purpose, mind, and man are all undone
The brothers also recommended
Light of Asia by Sir Edwin Arnold, whom I knew till then as the author
only of The Song Celestial, and I read it with even greater interest
than I did the Bhagavadgita. Once I had begun it I could not leave
off. They also took me on one occasion to the Blavatsky Lodge and introduced
me to Madame Blavatsky and Mrs. Besant. The latter had just then joined
the Theosophical Society, and I was following with great interest the controversy
about her conversion. The friends advised me to join the Society, but I
politely declined, saying, 'With my meagre knowledge of my own religion
I do not want to belong to any religious body.' I recall having read, at
the brothers' instance, Madame Blavatsky's Key to Theosophy. This
book stimulated in me the desire to read books on Hinduism, and disabused
me of the notion fostered by the missionaries that Hinduism was rife with
About the same time I met a
good Christian from Manchester in a vegetarian boarding house. He talked
to me about Christianity. I narrated to him my Rajkot recollections. He
was pained to hear them. He said, 'I am a vegetarian. I do not drink. Many
Christians are meat-eaters and drink, no doubt; but neither meat-eating
nor drinking is enjoined by Scripture. Do please read the Bible.' I accepted
his advice, and he got me a copy. I have a faint recollection that he himself
used to sell copies of the Bible, and I purchased from him an edition containing
maps, concordance, and other aids. I began reading it, but I could not
possibly read through the Old Testament. I read the book of Genesis, and
the chapters that followed invariably sent me to sleep. But just for the
sake of being able to say that I had read it, I plodded through the other
books with much difficulty, and without the least interest or understanding.
I disliked reading the book of Numbers.
But the New Testament produced
a different impression, especially the Sermon on the Mount, which went
straight to my heart. I compared it with the Gita. The verses 'But
I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee
on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man take away
thy coat let him have thy cloke [=cloak] too', delighted me beyond measure,
and put me in mind of Shamal Bhatt's 'For a bowl of water, give a goodly
meal' etc. My young mind tried to unify the teaching of the Gita,
Light of Asia, and the Sermon on the Mount. That renunciation
was the highest form of religion appealed to me greatly.
This reading whetted my appetite
for studying the lives of other religious teachers. A friend recommended
Carlyle's Heroes and Hero-Worship. I read the chapter on the Hero
as a Prophet, and learnt of the Prophet's greatness and bravery and austere
Beyond this acquaintance with
religion I could not go at the moment, as reading for the examination left
me scarcely any time for outside subjects. But I took mental note of the
fact that I should read more religious books and acquaint myself with all
the principal religions.
And how could I help knowing
something of atheism too? Every Indian knew Bradlaugh's name and his so-called
atheism. I read some book about it, the name of which I forget. It had
no effect on me, for I had already crossed the Sahara of atheism. Mrs.
Besant, who was then very much in the limelight, had turned to theism from
atheism, and that fact also strengthened my aversion to atheism. I had
read her book How I became a Theosophist.
It was about this time that
Bradlaugh died. He was buried in the Woking Cemetery. I attended the funeral,
as I believe every Indian residing in London did. A few clergymen also
were present to do him the last honours. On our way back from the funeral
we had to wait at the station for our train. A champion atheist from the
crowd heckled one of these clergymen. 'Well, sir, you believe in the existence
'I do,' said the good man in
a low tone.
'You also agree that the circumference
of the Earth is 28,000 miles, don't you?' said the atheist with a smile
'Pray tell me then the size
of your God and where he may be.'
'Well, if we but knew, He resides
in the hearts of us both.'
'Now, now, don't take me to
be a child,' said the champion with a triumphant look at us.
The clergyman assumed a humble
This talk still further increased
my prejudice against atheism.